On Mental Illness
For the record – I have not been diagnosed with a mental illness.
But that doesn’t mean I never will be.
Mental Health problems are very common in the UK, affecting around one in four people in Britain. Virtually everybody will know somebody; a friend, a family member, a colleague – who has suffered or will suffer with some type of mental illness during their lives.
Mental health problems can affect the way you think, feel and behave. Sadly, even though these problems are widespread and affect people from every part of society and every community, there is still stigma and discrimination towards sufferers. Sometimes this is due to a misunderstanding of what different diagnoses mean, sometimes it is due to fear or discomfort driven by a lack of understanding, sometimes it is just small-minded bigotry.
A mental health problem is every bit as real as any other illness and should never be demeaned, ignored or ridiculed simply because it is not as immediately visible as Measles, or Chicken Pox. Sufferers of serious conditions struggle with them, often extremely bravely and often in the face of confusing and frightening circumstances. Sometimes for their whole lives. They deserve all of our support and understanding.
I spent several years as Chairman of the Bowthorpe Association, a charity whose specific purpose was to support and help people with mental health issues. Then as Chair of Safer & Stronger Communities at County Council, then Cabinet Member for Health & Wellbeing at County Council, then Chairman of the Health & Wellbeing Board at County Council – I learnt more and more about these issues. Both the isolation and loneliness that some conditions lead to, but also the discrimination and challenges that many face.
The main thing I learnt is that anybody – literally anybody – could suffer from mental illness. It is not a sign of “weakness” any more than any other illness is. It is a disease that can come calling on you, regardless of their personal type, gender, racial origins or other personal characteristics. Sufferers need exactly the same thing as sufferers of any other illness. Love, compassion, understanding, support and friendship. It is entirely possible to recover from many mental health problems and live a normal and fulfilling life. That is made harder by people who are too stupid, bigoted or just plain mean to understand that an illness is just that. An illness. And those who can’t get this through their head should remember the old adage: “There but for the Grace Of God, go I.” It can happen to anybody.
Once again, for the record. I have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. But if I ever am, I will not be ashamed. I will seek help; from my Doctor, from my friends, from my colleagues. And I will do my best, with all the help I am offered, to get well. Just like any other illness.